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IN SHORT: Splendid
Just as a matter of background, I've seen the original Fantasia three times. Once, when my parents took me to see it in the 60s. Again, when I lugged younger cousins to see it in the 70s. A third time, also in the Seventies, blotto out of my skull. The reactions, as you might guess, "ooo" "boring" and "aaaaaaaaaah". I've written elsewhere about the grievous cutbacks in music appreciation programs in the lower schools but that may be the liberal in me sneaking out. Nothing in the "appreciation" classes I got back in school prepared me for anything like the music in the original Fantasia and I doubt the lack of same would have had any effect on the teenkids who watched the IMAX sized Fantasia 2000 with me. Uniformly, when asked if they liked, they chorused "NO!"
So, the heck with 'em. I did my music appreciation lessons on my own. More than once, in these pages, I've proclaimed myself as a 'toonhead. So, almost everything I could say about Fantasia 2000 is summed up in the one word at the top of this page. Splendid.
Creation, Death and Rebirth seems to be the running theme in this Fantasia. Beginning with the four most famous notes Beethoven ever put to paper, the music chosen for Fantasia 2000, if not flat out familiar (Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue or the Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance marches), might strike familiar patches in your memory, even if you're not into "classical" music (such as Respighi's Pines of Rome or Stravinsky's Firebird Suite - 1919 version). Of the original Fantasia pieces, only Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer's Apprentice remains.
It is explained to us, by multiple narrators, that Walt Disney wanted to rotate the segments of Fantasia every year, but financial restraints stopped him. This leads to the one very short segment that has no place here, the music that didn't make it into the final cut. The use of multiple narrators (Steve Martin, Itzhak Perlman, Quincy Jones, Bette Midler, James Earl Jones, Penn and Teller, Angela Lansbury) may work fine when this film is eventually split up for teevee time, but it's a wee bit of overkill here. That's the most minor of niggling complaints, true, but it's the only general distraction offered in an otherwise fine piece of film. Each segment is so distinct that every individual will react differently. Which is just the point.
Trying to describe abstract animation is like trying to describe a perfume's bouquet, so I'll stick to my favorites. Actually, using the word "abstract" isn't fair, the animation work here is the creation of the minds of the Disney artists and they, as anyone with active imaginations, will come up with different images than yours or mine. Thus, a Pines of Rome featuring neither trees nor set in Italy but magnificently animated whales flying both beneath the sea and above the clouds.
See? The description makes it sound like "Oh. OK. Dancing Hippos in Fantasia. Flying Whales in Fantasia 2000. Pass." Which isn't fair. The Pines of Rome sequence may be the most beautiful minutes of animation art ever seen on a big screen, and the IMAX projection at which you'll see Fantasia 2000 for the first six months of its run, only enhances the effect. Only the breathtaking finale of The Firebird Suite comes close, and that's like comparing sweet melon to chili peppers. As with Beethoven's Fifth, the animation explodes, rolls across and around you; keep your eyelids locked open and submerge yourself in the images.
All the 'toonhead critics sat together and we just looked at each other when the finale of Firebird was done. "Wow."
The topper, from my personal list of favorites, has got to be the segment featuring the greatest piece of American music of this Century, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, done in the artistic style of Al Hirschfeld, whose caricatures have defined the Great White Way for seven decades. Set in the Great Depression, the animation gives us a day in the lives of four distinct social classes, from very rich to very poor, and how they inadvertently interact. The thing swings royally, no question. And, yes, there are the signature "Nina's" hidden in the animation, which would be enough for this fan to shell out the extra bucks to see Fantasia 2000 again . . . except you can't freeze frame in IMAX. I'll be doing it off the DVD as soon as possible.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Fantasia 2000, he would have paid...
I'm glad Disney chose to leave out most of the original Fantasia. I'm also glad they managed to get some screentime for a duck named Donald (a cute love story set to Pomp and Circumstance on Noah's Ark). I'm also glad to have lived long enough to have learned enough about music to get more out of Fantasia 2000 than I did out of the original. Hopefully it'll be the same for you, at some point in your lives.
For wallpaper sized images from Fantasia 2000, click here
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